Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

LAST-MINUTE EDIT: We had a minor flood in our basement last night -- about 3/4 of the basement floor was covered by about 1/2 inch to an inch of water (1.3-2.5 cm). We didn't notice until 10 PM, it had started to recede again by about 10:45 PM, and it was never very deep, but still.

As I write this, I don't really know how bad any of it is going to be, except to know that our situation is not as bad as that of many of our neighbors, who have 1.5-8 inches (3.8-20 cm) of water in their basements. There's also the possibility that we may have worse flooding in the future: during the really big flood of 1993, I'm told the basement of this house was about five inches deep (or possibly more -- the story was sort of vague as to the actual depth). 1993 isn't the kind of flood that's supposed to happen often, but it sure seems like they do anyway, see 2008.


I don't know whether this will affect the blog or not, because we really don't know much about the situation yet, but there is the possibility that posts may have to become less regular for a while. I have one pre-written for Sunday (and I'm now suddenly worried that it could be the last impression I leave people with for a while, which you maybe will understand once you see it), but after that I have no idea what's going to happen. Updates, obviously, as they are relevant, but I figured y'all should know, in case I can't update for a while because I have cholera or something.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled post, the mood of which is so drastically different that some of you may suffer whiplash. (Sorry.)

When I first posted about Fervor, way back when, Diane left a comment on that post saying, in part, that "having a dog around makes life so much better." I needed confirmation of this at the time, which CelticRose ("And yes, having owned both dogs and cats and lived without either, I think I can say with some authority that pets in general improve your life.") and Diane ("Oh, absolutely they make things better!") provided.

ALERT! Sheba.

Then we took Fervor back because I was allergic (in case anyone is interested -- Fervor hasn't been back on the Iowa City shelter's website, so apparently this adoption is going to take, whoever and wherever it may be) and wound up with Sheba instead.

The dogless period in between Fervor and Sheba was definitely worse, but I was still unsure about having a dog making life better, especially considering that most of my recent prior exposure to dog ownership had been through Cesar Millan's show, which is all about incredibly problematic dogs. Problematic dogs being rehabilitated, granted, but still. The show did probably make us more reluctant to adopt a dog than we would have been otherwise.

And, after four months of having her here, I can say that yes, it's true, life is better. It's actually hard to imagine what it was like before we had Sheba, so I can't pin down exactly why or how it's better. It's nice to have a big, soft, furry thing around to touch occasionally, especially since the husband and I are both of an age where a stuffed animal collection would be creepy or off-putting. She's often entertainingly goofy. It's somehow incredibly delightful to see the look on her face when she's waiting for me to throw a ball for her to fetch. She's someone to talk to when I'm watering plants and the husband is outside doing stuff. I don't know. Life is just somehow less depressing, with a dog. It's weird, and it bugs me that I can't describe it better (the husband concurs but can't describe it either), but there it is. So.

Relaxed Sheba.

In case you'd wondered.

Friday, July 30, 2010

And if that wasn't enough reading for you,

PATSP participated in the blog carnival "Berry-Go-Round" #30, which is hosted by Brain Ripples and can be found here. PATSP's contribution, Part I of the Phalaenopsis profile, will already be familiar to regular readers, but there are other people there, with new, primarily science-themed, posts. Some of these are people you (ought to) know, like Rock Paper Lizard, The Phytophactor, and Watching the World Wake Up; others are new to me but will probably be showing up on the blogroll whenever I get around to updating the blogroll again.

Particularly recommended to PATSP readers: "19 Basic Botanical Terms," at Learn Plants Now. I really need to do a post like that, so I figure out some of these terms myself.

More Sites of Interest

It's been too long since I've done this, and I'm sorry. I'm even more sorry that I'm not going to be as thorough about it as I would like. My time is limited, like usual, so I will wind up not including some blogs which are perfectly worthy. I have a whole list of people I intend to check up on, who I hope to add to my blogroll at some point, so just so that we're all clear: I might still be aware of your blog (especially if you've commented here before, but even if you've just linked to PATSP), even if you're not on the blogroll.

Which actually is another reason why I haven't done one of these in a while: I feel like I have to apologize to all the people I leave off.

Anyway. So for this round:

Hort Log has been around for a long time (since 2007), and is written by Zog Zog and Hort Log, who may be the same person. I can't determine a location for sure, but it appears to be based somewhere in Southeast Asia (Singapore?). Particular interests are rare / weird tropicals, particularly orchids, carnivores, begonias, and gesneriads: it's a really good place to look at plants you've never seen before (and probably will never see in person, alas). I knew of Hort Log for a long time before I thought to add it to my feed reader, so I no longer have any idea how I became aware of it. Probably either Blotanical or Houseplants.

My Northern Garden is written by Mary Schier, who lives in Minnesota and writes about outdoor and edible gardening in Minnesota, as one would expect, with occasional forays into container and indoor gardening. I first became aware of MNG during the Robin Ripley stuff a few months ago.

I am somewhat embarrassed that I haven't gotten around to mentioning Steve Asbell's The Rainforest Garden before now. It's not that I wasn't aware of it -- it seems like I heard about it a long time ago, possibly through Blotanical? -- but for some reason, you know. Possibly I was jealous of the blog design. (It's very nice.) I don't know. In any case, I'm rectifying this now. Steve and I grow a lot of the same plants, but all mine are indoors, and his are mostly outdoors. Special interests appear to be edibles, bromeliads and other epiphytes, large-leaved plants like Colocasias, gingers, cannas, and bananas, and then houseplants and container gardening.

Danger garden writes Danger Garden from Portland, Oregon. The focus is very much on the sharp pointy things: Agaves, Yuccas, Euphorbias (though mostly the outdoor, hardy types, not the pointy ones, which seems like an oversight, but I will forgive a blogger of a lot of things if they have 57 posts tagged "Agave"), that sort of thing, hence the blog name. And there is a dog. I think I ran across Danger Garden via Plant Zone, but I'm not sure.

F that S (yeah, it stands for what you think it stands for) is sort of about everything and nothing. There are tendencies toward the horticulture industry, graphic design (and then landscape design, the overlap of the two), travel, and much photography of nature-type stuff. I'm probably leaving things out. It's written by Corinne Weiner from New York City, and I'm pretty sure I found it when Statcounter told me someone came from there to visit PATSP.

That's it for this round. If I haven't mentioned you yet, please know that I probably feel really bad about it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pretty picture: Stenosarcos Vanguard 'Fireball'

You will probably want to open this full-size, in a separate window.

This is an odd one, very unlike what most of us picture when we think of orchids. Stenosarcos Vanguard is a cross of Sarcoglottis speciosus with a Stenorrhynchos species (different sites give different identities: either S. speciosum or S. albidomaculatum). I didn't get a picture of the foliage, and don't even remember seeing it (the displays had a lot of plants all crammed in together, so it's possible I couldn't have seen or photographed it even if I'd tried), but it's sort of pleasantly variegated, as orchids go. The foliage is probably from the Sarcoglottis side of the family; the color and flair of the flowers, such as it is, looks like it comes from Stenorrhynchos. At least that's what I infer from Google Image Searching for about ten minutes.

I couldn't find much hard information on the cross or its two parents: Stenosarcos blooms in winter, with the first flowers appearing in January and lasting until maybe Valentine's Day -- though this particular photo is from late March, so this must not be written in stone. It's said to be a terrestrial orchid, but most of the photos I saw showed it planted in sphagnum moss, so I'm not sure what to think about that. A lot of the websites said it was an easy orchid to grow, but so many sites say that about so many orchids -- particularly if they sell the orchids they're talking about -- that I don't trust that to be the case. So maybe it's an easy to grow terrestrial that blooms in January, and maybe it's a difficult to grow epiphyte that blooms in March.

*sigh* Relying on the internet for information has its drawbacks.

Stenosarcos isn't an exceptionally beautiful flower, as compared to a Potinara or Beallara or something, but it's a type of orchid I haven't seen before. Which is cool enough, I think.

Some prettier (or artier) pictures: (1) (2)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fictional botany: Aerophthora repens

Aerophthora repens (air-oaf-THOR-uh REE-penz), also called flor de diablo, flor de silencio, hushvine, orphans' vine, or the obsolete A. bullatus, is the only species in the genus Aerophthora, in the family Aerophthoraceae.

Its natural range is primarily Nicaragua and Costa Rica, with isolated colonies in Panama, Venezuela and Columbia. It is especially common in low-lying areas with rich, organic-heavy, acidic soil, but tolerates a wide range of soils.

The botanical and common names refer to its unique defense mechanism: all parts of the plant, but particularly the leaves, contain hollow, easily broken chambers or tubes in which the poisonous gas carbon monoxide (CO) is stored. (Aerophthora means "corruptor of air;" repens refers to the trailing habit.) No other plant is known to use carbon monoxide defensively in this way. The only analysis performed to date found the concentration of CO within the leaf to be about 90%, with most of the remaining 10% being water vapor and nitrogen.

Because carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, and the plant typically forms large, thick mats of trailing vines, it is theoretically possible for an invividual to release a lethal concentration of carbon monoxide simply by walking through a field of Aerophthora, given a tailwind and other appropriate weather conditions. No documented cases of such a single fatality are known, however. Aerophthora has, on the other hand, been conclusively shown to kill large groups traveling together, on several occasions. Historians believe, for example, that the plant was a significant obstacle in the Spanish conquest of Nicaragua, in the early sixteenth century. Archaeologists have found large numbers of Spanish weapons and armor, dating to the correct time period, in areas favorable to Aerophthora's growth, and the Spanish log books make reference to multiple unexpected losses of large scouting parties. The culture of the indigenous peoples also include prohibitions on traveling in large groups: though the restrictions do not mention the plant as such (the justification is instead religious, having to do with the number of gods in the local pantheon), it seems reasonable to assume that the danger posed by Aerophthora was the original motivation.

Hushvine is a small, creeping vine with paired round leaves about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3.8 cm) in diameter, puffed-up or blistered in texture, and typically half as thick as they are wide. New leaves are often slightly reddish, especially in full sun, and hollow; the outer surface encloses a carbon-monoxide-filled chamber which is typically 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Leaf color ranges from gray-green to blue-green, usually with a slight iridescent or metallic sheen; this coloration is due to a layer of microscopic bubbles within the leaf tissue itself. These smaller pockets are filled with air, not carbon monoxide, and their purpose is still debated.

Aerophthora produces large, showy flowers in June and July. The five petals are broad and pointed, and lie flat or slightly reflexed. The flowers' overall color is deep blue, with a narrow purple margin on each petal, and in the center, a ring of yellow anthers surround a single white stigma. Flowers range in size from 5 to 8 inches (13-20 cm) in diameter, and last for about 5-10 days. All flowers in a given population bloom synchronously, which is said to be extremely dramatic. Pollination has not been observed, but the pollinator is believed to be a bee. Seed pods are cigar-shaped, nondescript green structures about two inches (5 cm) long which resemble the leaves; they mature in late August or September and split open to release thousands of tiny, windborne seeds. Seeds are viable for three to six months and germinate readily, though they will not develop without full sun and abundant moisture.

The IUCN presently lists Aerophthora as an Endangered species, as it has been the target of aggressive eradication campaigns throughout its range. Though defensively formidable en masse, the plant is easily kept under control through herbicides, the planting of trees (as it cannot survive in dense shade), and hand-pulling of isolated plants. Burning is ineffective, as plants can resprout from the roots. It is presently believed extinct in South America, and present only in extremely remote areas, with low population, in Costa Rica, Panama, and particularly Nicaragua. Though the flowers are very attractive, the plant is not known in cultivation because of the danger it presents.

Though now mostly eradicated, Aerophthora's effects are still sometimes seen in remote areas in the weeks following tropical storms or hurricanes, when weakened trees fall into beds and damage large numbers of leaves simultaneously. The resulting carbon monoxide plume can, depending on the temperature and wind conditions, travel through the forest, killing large numbers of birds, mammals, and other animals before dissipating. This is the origin of the common names "flor de silencio" (silence flower) and "hushflower:" an eerie silence near a field of Aerophthora is a common motif in the legends of the indigenous people.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Random plant event: Ardisia elliptica seedlings

I didn't know whether this would work; I'd gotten berries1 on the plant a long time ago (last summer or fall, maybe?), and they turned black/purple like they do. Which is how they remained for a very long time, because I wasn't sure at what point they're officially ripe and plantable. Eventually one started to shrivel a little and then I thought I'd probably waited too long, so I opened them all up and took the seeds out.

I am aware that the photos suck. I needed more light, apparently, though it didn't seem that way at the time.

The seeds are surprisingly small, compared to the size of the fruits, and each drupe only produces one seed. The flesh of the drupe2 was also surprising. I expected something more like a blueberry or tomato, where there are multiple seeds just kind of floating around in a semi-liquid mass, but it was actually surprisingly dry, yet soft. More like a banana than a tomato. Seeds are located at the point of attachment to the plant, and take up very little of the drupe.

The seeds are slightly less than 1/4 inch (5 mm) in diameter, and slightly ridged. I wasn't sure how to plant them or how to simulate going through a bird's digestive system, so I just washed them off briefly, stuck them in some damp vermiculite in a plastic clamshell container (like I use for propagating Begonias), and set the whole thing in the warmest, brightest spot I could come up with.

The first activity I noticed was a couple weeks later.3 I was pretty happy to see one sprout -- I wasn't sure whether the seeds were any good, considering how long they'd been on the plant.

Since this picture was taken, the other two seeds have also sprouted, though so far none of the three have shown any leaves: all three plants are still wearing their seed coats, and I'm a little scared to remove them, lest I damage something important. But fairly soon, they're going to hit the top of the container anyway, and then I'll have to transplant, so I hope to see leaves very soon.

Would that I had more than just three seedlings to pot up, though it appears that plants may sucker: the plant that produced the drupes is now a small clump of 24 stems. I can't find anybody confirming this on-line: all the invasive-species sites emphasize the seeds being spread by birds, and don't mention whether or not there might be suckering, but it seems unlikely that the original 3-inch plant I bought could have contained 24 individual seedlings. Measurement and geometry tell me that it's technically possible, though.4 Maybe this new crop of seedlings will sucker a little as they grow, and I'll end up with a second, full-looking plant in a couple years, or maybe they won't, but I'll have new seedlings to add to them later on. Either way, I'm pretty tickled that this worked.


1 Technically, they're drupes; the distinction between the two is not that important for our purposes, and brief googling didn't give me any easy ways to tell the difference between the two, so I decided I didn't care. But I'll still use "drupe" henceforth, for the sake of botanical correctness. Pedants in the audience -- and I know you're out there -- will be pleased to know that in most horticultural or lay contexts, people call the fruit of Ardisia elliptica "berries," so now you have a whole new world of people to correct. You're welcome.
2 $50 vocabulary word for the flesh of the drupe: mesocarp. (You now owe me $50, by the way.)
3 According to the dates when the photos were uploaded, I started the seeds on June 27, and noticed the first seed sprouting on July 14. This is pretty fast, though for some reason it felt slow.
4 The circumference of the clump at soil level is 9.25 inches, and it's a more or less circular clump, which means its diameter is just under 3 inches. (9.25 / pi = 2.94 inches). Add in that the trunk diameters have increased, and that the plants in the clump would tend to lean away from one another, for better light, and we come up with 24 plants in a 3" pot as being plausible.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pretty picture: Hibiscus NOID

I don't know what the most likely species ID would be here; it's a hardy Hibiscus of some kind syriaca (thanks, Don & Greensparrow), from someone's front yard here in town. I remember seeing it last year and pondering whether it would be worth my time to ask for a seedling or cutting, but then I didn't, because so much other stuff was going on last year. I'm less certain now that I actually want one -- whatever the voices in my head tell me, I don't have to have all the plants -- but I can still appreciate them when others grow them.

To me, accustomed to Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as I am, the pinky-lavender color of the flowers seems impossibly strange and exotic, though I'm aware it's not that unusual of a color for hardy hibiscus.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Random plant event: Caladium 'Fire Chief' flower

Not that it's a gorgeous flower or anything, but I'm fairly impressed with this. I mean, for a flower, it's nearly pretty, and for a Caladium flower, it's downright spectacular.

Makes me wonder what would happen if people started trying to breed Caladiums for the flowers, how far that could go. I don't know what sort of natural variation they'd be working with, color-wise, and I imagine pleasant fragrance would be too much to ask for. But still. Maybe someday?